Heading into 2018 NBA free agency, the Los Angeles Lakers were expected to be a major factor for Paul George and LeBron James. However, George quickly reached an agreement to re-sign with the Oklahoma City, without so much as giving the Lakers a meeting.
But any lingering disappointment or shock was erased less than 24 hours later, when James and the Lakers came to terms on a four-year contract. That then sparked a flurry of activity for the Lakers, who added Lance Stephenson, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondon, to go along with re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
“The points of emphasis for us, in terms of roster composition, were: high-IQ basketball players, we wanted versatility, we wanted depth in our roster, we wanted to be able to play fast, we wanted players that had a toughness about them,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka explained at Wednesday’s press conference.
“As we completed our signings and look at this roster, we’re incredibly proud that it represents those things.”
On the surface, the Lakers’ roster lacks the type of shooting that’s factored heavily into teams James previously led. “We did not want to go out and just sign specialists, like, ‘Oh, this guy can just shoot.’ We wanted tough, two-way players that can defend with a level of toughness and also make shots,” Pelinka explained.
“Listen, the road to an NBA championship has to go through the team that won last year. We all know the guys up north have a special group. But, one of the ways to attack what they have is with defensive toughness.”
Pelinka pointed to the versatile, defensive-minded Houston Rockets team that pushed the Warriors to a Game 7 in this year’s Western Conference Finals as a blueprint of sorts for the Lakers to follow.
“If you look at KCP, he’s a guy that’s a tough defender and shooter. Josh Hart has proven to be a pitbull of a defender and a guy that can make shots,” he said. “Rondo historically has been a tenacious, tough guy. Lance Stephenson, he’ll agitate you, he’ll get under you, he’ll cause you to get out of your game, and he can play in the open court and score at the rim. We wanted that mentality.”
Although the Rockets at times attempted to out-score the defending champions, Pelinka is keenly aware of the challenge that brings. “Earvin and I had a conversation, and LeBron echoed this sentiment, I think to try to play the Warriors in their own game is a trap,” he said.
“No one is going to beat them at their own game. That’s why we wanted to add these elements of defense and toughness and depth, and try to look at areas where we’ll have an advantage.
“This is a roster that we cannot be more thrilled and excited about.”
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